Lady luck frowned upon the Denver Nuggets this past Tuesday as they lost their star guard Jamal Murray to an ACL tear for the rest of the season. It was a freak injury as his knees simply buckled without contact, and near the end of the game too, but what adds to the frustration is they are only a month away from the playoffs.
Denver has a lot of capable scorers outside Murray and top MVP candidate Nikola Jokic, but 20-plus points per game and clutch shooting doesn’t just grow on trees. There’s a legit concern as to how this promising team can hold their ground.
The Nuggets are currently fourth in the Western Conference with a 35-20 record. Though they have a comfortable lead over the play-in spots (7-10), there’s still a chance that they could fall to seventh and then get dumped out during the play-in tournament. Crazier things have happened, like them overcoming 1-3 deficits in back-to-back series last season. Either way, the first-round match-up is now a huge question mark.
Hopefully, that’s when Michael Porter Jr. can come in. He has the tools to flourish as a really good player and his recent stretch have him flashing that potential yet again. Ever since the All-Star break, which now spans to 19 games, the 22-year-old is posting 21.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game on an efficient 57.5% shooting (43.3% from three). That includes leading the Nuggets in points thrice and rebounding six times – it’s a good minor feat when you’re sharing the floor with Jokic and Murray.
On Thursday against the Miami Heat, Porter Jr. tallied game-highs of 25 points and 10 boards while going a smooth 10-for-14 from the floor. He also added three blocks and only turned the ball over once. Denver was on a two-game skid coming in and his efforts helped stir the team to a momentum-building, 123-106 victory.
Additional note: it was Porter Jr.’s eighth time scoring 20 or more points over his last nine games and seventh double-double in his last 10.
In competition with Aaron Gordon?
The Nuggets acquiring the suddenly sought-after Aaron Gordon during last month’s trade deadline generated talks that it may affect MPJ’s development. Those views had some weight since they play the two forward positions and mirror certain traits, but that has been squashed instantly.
MPJ is taking 16 shots per game since Gordon’s arrival (10 games), higher than his average for the season and his 10 previous games without his new teammate. Gordon, meanwhile, is only putting up 8.3 attempts as a Nugget and has instead become more of a set-up man for others.
Moving forward, it’ll be exciting to watch how deep Porter Jr.’s rhythm can be for the playoffs, where he can really prove his game and catapult his stock to new heights. It’s been fun to see considering the number of injuries he had to go through in college and the pros before being able to fully insert himself in the rotation.
The Nuggets will face the West-bottoming Houston Rockets next. They’ll meet on Saturday, 8:00 AM, Manila time.